My TV

05 August 2013

Batman, a TV History

By // TV

Beware-the-Batman-logoI love Batman, and as a result the premiere of a new Batman TV show is always something I get excited about. July 13 saw the debut of Beware the Batman, featuring the first 3D version of Gotham City, which promises to be a whole different take on the Dark Knight legend. Instead of doing another pilot watch, I thought it would be more fun to take at the nearly 50 year history of Batman on the small screen. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of the many, many versions Batman and Gotham that have appeared on TV.

Batman (1966)

The Show: The original Batman tv show.  It starred Adam West and Burt Ward as the Dynamic Duo and was an enormous hit in the late 60’s. The show was popular enough to cause a surge in the sagging sales of Batman comics, and potentially saved the characters from fading into obscurity.

Pros: Put the character of Batman on the pop culture map. Created iconic versions of characters that are still remembered. For many people, this was their first introduction to world of Batman and Gotham City.

Cons: Legendary for the camp tone of show. Subject to fan backlash for ignoring the serious and dark tone of the comic. It went off the air 45 years ago and people still make jokes about it. Batman dances.

The Batman/Superman Hour (1968)

The Show: This was the first time that Batman appeared in animated form in a regular tv show. It was made by Filmation Animation Studies, who combined new Batman shorts with repackaged Superman cartoons, meaning the two never actually appeared on screen together.

Pros: Showed the world of Batman in a fuller way then was possible with live action. Pioneered the tradition of animated superhero tv shows.

Cons: The quality of the animation was not the highest. Still quite campy in tone.

Super Friends (1973-1986)

The Show: The adventures of the Justice League as they batted evil villains and saved the world. The show was produced by Hanna-Barbara, famous for The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and Scooby-Doo. It aired on Saturday mornings for almost 15 years in various incarnations.

Pros: Unified the Justice League on screen for the first time. Presented the entire DC Universe to a wide audience.

Cons: Animation quality still not very high. Famed for its light and bland toned.

Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1999)

The Show: Created by Warner Bros after the huge popularity of Time Burton’s 1989 Batman film. The show was initially promoted as a Saturday morning kids show, but quickly received attention for its darker and mature tone. It was rebranded as The New Batman Adventures in 1997, with the addition of Nightwing, Robin, and Batgirl to the regular cast. It featured the voices of Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker, who continued to voice the characters in other media for the next 20 years.

Pros: This is greatest adaptation of Batman in any medium, including films. The most complete and truthful interpretation of Batman and his various comic book interactions. Launched the critically acclaimed DC Animated Universe. Frequently cited as one of the great animated tv shows ever.

Cons: You’re kidding right? The only con is that they’re not still making more episodes.

Batman Beyond (1999-2001)

The Show:  Batman: The Animated Series producers Bruce Timm and Paul Dini were tasked by Warner Bros with creating a teenaged Batman to bring in a new audience. What could have been a terrible idea turned into a sequel/spinoff to the earlier animated series, and followed an aged and retired Bruce Wayne as he mentored a new Batman in a future Gotham City.

Pros: Created a version of Batman that was not Bruce Wayne and managed to make it cool and interesting. Showed an aged and frailer Bruce who must actually deal with the consequences of his years underneath the cowl. The made-for-tv film Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker actually provides an ending to the conflict between Batman and his arch-nemesis that is simultaneously thrilling and heart wrenching. Provides a view of the future of the DC Universe that is impossible in the static form of comic books.

Cons: By the nature of its future setting, the majority of Batman’s iconic villains are absent. No cape.

Justice League (2001-2006)

The Show: The final show in DC Animated Universe created by Batman 10 years earlier, it’s Super Friends done right. It brought together the worlds of the Batman and Superman animated shows and showed the true scope of this universe for the first time.

Pros: Showed a version of Batman that had grown and matured. Showcased Batman with characters and villains that he had never been paired with before. The culmination of the DC Animated Universe after 10 years of acclaimed production. Ever wonder how Batman and Aquaman would get along? Here’s your chance to find out.

Cons: If you’re a Batman fan who has no interest in seeing him fight Cheetah, Gorilla Grodd, or Count Vertigo, this isn’t for you.

Birds of Prey (2002)

The Show: The second live-action show set in Gotham City. It was set in future and featured Helena Kyle aka the Huntress as its main character. She is the grown daughter of Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne, and is searching for her father after Batman has seemingly abandoned Gotham. It only lasted one season on the WB Network, where it was quickly over shadowed by the long-running Smallville.

Pros: The first live action tv series set in the Batman universe since the 1966 show. Treats the material seriously and is fairly un-campy. Batman and the Joker appear in the pilot episode. The only live-action appearance to date of Harley Quinn, the Joker’s girlfriend.

Cons: Batman isn’t actually in the show. Feels more like a 90’s syndicated action show at times. Only 13 episodes.

The Batman (2004-2008)

The Show: A reboot of Batman in animation, it was the first DC animated show in 12 years not to be connected to the larger animated universe. It featured a more cartoonish style, and featured a heavy emphasis on gadgets.

Pros: Shows a younger version of Bruce Wayne that is less set in his way and more unsure of himself. Clearly positions Batman as the head of a family with Robin and Batgirl, showing a different side of the character. Provided an entry point to new fans of Batman. Adam West voices the Mayor of Gotham.

Cons: Covers a lot of the same ground as Batman: The Animated Series, especially in the early seasons. Can feel a bit repetitive a times. Clearly aimed at children.

Batman: The Brave and The Bold (2008-2011)

The Show: At the same time that The Dark Knight debuted in theatres to critical acclaim and huge box office returns, a completely different version of Batman premiered on tv. The Brave and The Bold was completely different than any other Batman animated series, and was not the dark and gritty world that viewers had come to expect. It is essentially the Silver Age Batman put on screen.

Pros: Breaks with the tone set by the 1992 series, and shows a lighter side of Batman and the surrounding characters. Presents fun team ups with Batman and a wide range of characters from the DC Universe. Pays an affectionate tribute to the 1966 live action series, while proving that “fun” and “camp” do not mean the same thing.

Cons: If you love dark and gritty Batman and only love dark and gritty Batman, you’ll probably hate this show.

Beware The Batman (2013-Present)

The Show: The first Batman show to be presented in 3D animation, Beware The Batman is a return to the darker and grittier Batman, but is still different than any other previous iteration. It features a young Batman presented more as an urban warrior than a super hero, and revamps several major characters in Batman’s mythos, particularly Alfred. Producers also promise that villains will be drawn from Batman’s more obscure rogue’s gallery, in order to avoid yet another new version of the same characters.

Pros: Makes use of a new 3D animation style that sets it apart from all other Batman tv shows. New villains give audience a break from the same Joker, Riddler, Mr Freeze battles that they’ve come to expect.  Katana appears at the end of the first episode to assume the sidekick role. They’re actually trying to do something different instead of just retreading the same Gotham ground again. Alfred is closer to Jason Statham than Michael Caine.

Cons: Who’s Katana? The proportions of Batman’s mask seem a little strange when rendered in this style. If you’re a purist, the lack of big villains will disappoint you.  Alfred is closer to Jason Statham than Michael Caine.

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